Sunday, August 23, 2009

After Bill

Bill the Hurricane has passed our coast and passed from Hurricane into Tropical Storm status; that is, he has passed on and is gone from here. What we have now is strong northwesterlies that are rushing in to fill the gap that Bill’s centre of low pressure left behind. He was, as the man from Beyond the Fringe said, “not quite the conflagration we expected”, and we were glad for that. There was plenty of rain and plenty of wind and plenty of shaking of trees, but there was no shaking of our house and no debris flying around the property; in fact, the staging sections and ladders, the deck furniture, the plywood and scrap lumber were all lying exactly where I stowed them yesterday in anticipation of Bill.

So what was it like? This morning the waves hitting the shore at Sailor’s Point were unremarkable, nothing more than the usual good southeast gale, but down on Ferguson’s Cove Road the water was way up around Andrew’s wharf, even though it was still more than an hour until high tide, and John and Lesley’s lane was almost under water well ahead of the forecast storm surge. Bill did kick up some fuss, and our clumps of maples certainly thrashed their branches around, but nothing broke off and the torrential rain didn’t last long. The storm surge seemed not to amount to much and the gusts became less intense. While the large swells were crashing across Mauger’s Beach behind the lighthouse, the wind came around to the north and then northeast, and the whitecaps came straight across the harbour towards us, a sure sign that Bill’s centre had moved past.

Soon the wind shifted to northwest and the sky cleared a little. When we went back out to Sailor’s Point there were cars parked all up and down the road, and it was easy to see why. Bill had moved on but he had left behind huge swells that roared in from the open ocean and crashed on the rocks. There was something a little exotic about these giant rollers that came from way offshore where a huge depression called Bill had been stirring them up. Farther out on the shoal water just offshore they reared up and crested with the sharp wind blowing back plumes of spray so that they looked like white horses with flying white manes rushing in. People were standing everywhere, all looking seaward. Some held up their cameras and phones, but all were watching wave after wave. Out on the horizon spray flew upward in mysterious white blooms, and we all stood and watched.

Tonight Venus is bright in the eastern sky, the white blooms are still intact on our hydrangea, and there is a roar still coming in the window from the waves across the harbour. But Bill has gone, and we are OK. Tomorrow everyone goes back to their ordinary work, but they will all be talking. They’ll talk about Bill, what happened or didn’t happen and what he was or wasn’t, while Bill’s ragged remnants cross Newfoundland and end up in a couple of days lashing the coast of Ireland with whatever strength he has left.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Hurricane Bill -- the calm before

There’s a storm coming. Its name is Bill. I call it Kill Bill, but I’m hoping it won’t be a killer storm. It is a hurricane right now, a Category Three, but forecasters suggest it could move back up the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale to a Four tomorrow. I hope it doesn’t. You can check out this site to see what the hurricane categories mean and what kind of damage can be expected (for example, if you live in a mobile home built before 1994, you are in trouble in any one of the categories).

We moved to Istanbul in August, 2003. In September of that year Hurricane Juan made landfall in Halifax and caused very extensive damage. We missed it but our house survived the storm without damage. From here you can see areas of dead trees over on McNab’s Island even now six years later, and Point Pleasant Park still shows signs of serious devastation; in fact, the wildfire that threatened our house at the end of April fed on the debris of dead trees from Juan. The thing that is particularly worrisome as Bill approaches is that Juan caused all the damage it did six years ago as a Category One hurricane, way down the scale from Bill's current status.

Today we took down the stage we have been using for painting the house and stacked it carefully on the ground. The sheets of plywood that have been protecting the deck are now safely stowed in the sheltered area next to the shed. Tomorrow, the day before Bill is expected to arrive, we will move the barbecue and all the deck furniture somewhere safe, away from windows and railings and anything else they could fly into and damage. We are in the process of battening down.

Today there was a light wind out of the south. The fogbank hung just beyond McNab’s all morning and began to drift in the harbour in the afternoon. Waves started breaking on the beach by the lighthouse, the first white water I’ve noticed over there in more than a week. Surf reports predict waves up to 3 metres on Saturday and 6 metres on Sunday, a sure sign of something coming even with hardly a breath of wind -- yet. And there seemed to be a lot of boats coming in the harbour, presumably looking for shelter from the storm.

I don’t know if we would have known a storm was coming if we hadn’t been checking the forecast and news reports over the last couple of days; that is, were there signs and portents that we would have noticed, or did we notice these things only because we knew Bill was tracking towards us? Whatever the answer, we feel that we can feel the storm coming, and we feel the need to get ready. Tomorrow we will fill the water containers and check that we have fuel and the Coleman works. We will locate the battery radio, candles, and matches. We will pick up anything around the house capable of becoming a projectile. And we will keep watching how Bill is tracking (here is a good source of information) and wait to see what happens.

My hope is that the colder water off our shore damps down this hurricane’s energy enough to lower its status a couple of categories or that it tracks far enough from here to limit us to a good gale from its edges. We will find out what Bill is up to (or down to) in a day or so, but we do know we will get a storm on Sunday and its name is Bill. We will try to be ready and we will be waiting.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Celebration of Leonard Cohen

Last week Leonard Cohen performed two concerts in Istanbul, the first time that he has played there. Earlier in the summer Loreena McKennitt also played Istanbul, one more great Canadian performer (with, of course, Hugh Marsh in her ensemble), so we have been well represented musically there this year – just need Neil and Joni, I guess, to complete that picture. You can read some interesting accounts of Leonard’s performances in the reviews and reactions listed by Dr. Guy in his blog here. They seem to have been good concerts, much appreciated by the Istanbul audiences, one of which included my good friend Ann and her daughter Çağla, who went for the best seats. There’s a nice view of “Hallelujah” here -- I hope that Ann and Çağla saw and heard as well as that.

I was quite familiar with Leonard’s work back in the 60’s, initially from the poems his teacher/mentor Irving Layton selected for the 1962 anthology of Canadian love poetry, Love Where the Nights are Long (still worth the price of admission!). I had my own copy of The Spice-Box of Earth, the one that had a cutout window in the paper cover showing Leonard’s picture inside, as did Lorraine when we first got together a few years later. Leonard’s poems were important to all of us young lovers and romantics as we tried to figure out who and how we were. Read “The Cuckold’s Song” to see why. Or this:


I almost went to bed
without remembering
the four white violets
I put in the button-hole
of your green sweater

and how I kissed you then
and you kissed me
shy as though I’d
never been your lover

We all read Beautiful Losers and talked endlessly about Catherine and that great mantra “God is alive; magic is afoot”. Leonard was present in our lives, even though, as Warren T pointed out, he didn’t have the rhythmic or verbal complexity of Bob (he meant Mr. D but it could also have been our other hero Creeley); Warren was right, of course, but for us Leonard was still cool.

When we heard in 1967 that Leonard was coming to UBC to do a reading, we were all going. When we got into the lecture theatre, we waited. Leonard was not sitting down front to be introduced like at most readings – he wasn’t in the hall at all. We waited. When he came out from the wings, he was carrying a guitar -- no book, no sheaves of paper – just a guitar, and that small smile you will recognize if you ever saw him perform. He began with “Suzanne” and he owned us.

Later in the old caff we sat around tables while he told us that it was his birthday, his 33rd, and that he was happy to be in Vancouver, and he reminded us of the fact that Jesus was crucified in his 33rd year. He pointed out that such a thing was not part of his own plan, though he certainly toys with such ideas in “Dress Rehearsal Rag”, which we all knew from the copy of Judy Collins’ “In my Life” I was given for my birthday that year. The next year up in Sechelt Jon F. played and sang Cohen songs beatifically at our campfires on the beach at Sergeant’s Bay, etching songs like “Sisters of Mercy” and “One of Us Cannot Be Wrong” into my consciousness forever.

I have followed Leonard’s work over the years but haven’t been to a concert since that first one back at UBC. I’m glad he is doing them and glad that Ann and Çağla got to go to one last week. After all he is still, at close to 75, very cool and always worth a listen.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Four People

Yesterday afternoon at the airport we said our departure words to four of the best people we know as they headed back to their home in Istanbul after three weeks here with us and with our children and grandchildren. The words were not good-byes or farewells -- though our hope always is that they will “fare well” in their travels and in their daily doings, both of those terms carry too much feeling of finality for me to use them comfortably. I might prefer “Au revoir” or “Adieu”, but neither is a term that sits easily, and “See you” or “Görüşürüz” are just too casual for this occasion. It was a parting, a leave-taking, the beginning of a time away from each other until we see them again, either here or there, when we can greet them again and resume the happiness of the times we spend together. And our words were the words for people you truly care about and truly wish they did not have to leave

These four people are K&A, the parents, and their three-year old twins, A&Ö, and they were heading off on a 15-hour stint in the zone of air travel to get from Halifax to Istanbul, from our home to their home. Our place this morning is quiet. We were woken by the sun in our window rather than by the voice of a twin initiating his morning conversation. There is no more Thomas the Train layout in the living room and no “white window car”, the big Buick SUV they rented, sitting in the driveway. There is in our house the absence of their presence.

There are many gifts and benefits from our five years in Istanbul, which was a wonderfully life-changing period for us, but the best and most significant was our meeting and coming to know these four people there. K., who is Turkish, is about the closest colleague I have ever had and a truly excellent friend, one of those rare people you are fortunate to encounter and to come to know. His wife, A., who is American, is a truly gifted teacher and parent and a privilege to have as both a colleague and friend. And their boys, A and Ö, whom we have known practically since their conception, are now fluently bilingual and wonderful young beings, our good friends, able and inquisitive and truly loving. These four people are worth knowing and they are missed.

They have visited, and they have returned as they should to their own lives in Istanbul. They are there now and they should be sleeping. “Fare thee well”, I say to them -- we are thinking of them as we explore the now empty spaces of our house, resume some of the patterns of our ordinary life, and speculate on when we will next see them and hang out together again. They are four people who matter.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

PEI Vacation

We have just returned from a week on PEI at John B’s Waterfront Cottages on Tracadie Bay with our two sons and their delightful young families and our dear close friends from Istanbul, K&A, with their equally dear and close three year-old boys. It was one of those vacation times that was magical, because of the outstanding people -- five children under five and six young adults all in their thirties -- we spent our time with, because of the fine weather, and because of the beautiful setting.

Here are a few impressions:

• brilliant green of beach grass
• dark red sand
• clear warm water that fills the bay
• boats out in the channel running from the wharf to the mussel lines and back
• voices of small children
• a heron circling slowly and moving on
• the shape of sand dunes on Blooming Point and the sea’s horizon beyond
• young eagle in early morning circling just above the cabins
• blue sky white clouds
• kids in crocs, sun hats
• icy freshwater spring bubbling up down the beach
• a couple of 24 hands and T. pegging 12 in an evening of cribbage with our two sons
• blown bubbles that floated from the steps over the beach and the bay
• a colony of sandcastles around a constructed inlet, driftwood bridges
• bare feet
• reading to a child on your lap
• one of the ospreys diving and disappearing, then lifting off with a fish, shaking itself, and flying to the nest calling
• glass of crisp cold pinot grigio
• rain in the night on the cottage roof
• conversations, explorations
• terns calling and diving out in the channel
• sun’s set
• small starfish and tiny yellow snails as you snorkel over the eel grass
• dinner together with the ones you love, laughter
• herons in the morning or evening, standing, or gliding on long curved wings to the next spot
• the games of young children on the beach, under lawn chairs, in the cottages
• finding rocks to skip across the calm water
• going to bed, getting up, knowing that there is nothing that you have to do
• everyone shouting “PEI” with right fists raised